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Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009:


Budget cuts put college aid in crosshairs

Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on Wednesday will ask the state's top two fiscal officers to approve about $105 million in new spending cuts that could reduce financial aid for students at Maryland's independent colleges and universities, cut Medicaid funding for hospitals and further reduce access to state mental health programs, according to sources familiar with his plans.

The cuts are part of a $365 million-dollar package of budget actions O'Malley plans to take to the state's Board of Public Works, the sources said. The three-member body - comprised of O'Malley, State Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot -- has broad budget-cutting authority when Maryland's legislature is out of session.

It is the third time since July that O'Malley has taken a major package of cuts to the board, as state tax revenues have continued to decline. Unlike in the days preceding the previous two rounds of cuts, however, the governor's staff on Tuesday did not brief reporters on the proposed cuts. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details of the governor's plan, said the potential ramifications of some elements of his proposal were not immediately clear.

The governor, for example, proposes to save money by shifting about $120 million earmarked for state universities, and other programs to cover the shortfall. Roughly $25 million would come from the University System of Maryland. Millions more would come from a senior drug assistance program and other social services accounts. It was not clear Tuesday night if student services at the university system could be affected, or if the cuts would be passed along to senior citizens, or absorbed within the state's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

At Maryland's independent colleges and universities, more than $10 million may come from the Joseph A. Sellinger Aid Program. This year, the schools used 75 percent of the funding to offer financial aid to some 15,000 Maryland students.

O'Malley's administration also appears set to move forward with plans to close most, if not all, of the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center in Kent County. An uproar over the proposed closing of the state-run psychiatric hospital in August prompted O'Malley and state officials to delay the planned removal of patients from the facility.

Faced with an upcoming $1.9 billion-dollar shortfall in the budget cycle beginning next, year, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the state's largest public-employee union, has attempted to make a stand over the closing of the hospital, arguing O'Malley should tap the state's half-billion dollar rainy-day reserve fund rather than continue to cut away at core state services and layoff public employees.

The governor's latest cuts include about 60 layoffs, and elimination of nearly an equal number of vacant state jobs, the sources said.

More than a third of the governor's $365 million package is not budget cuts at all. He amends state revenue projections to factor in nearly $130 million in taxes from the sale of Constellation Energy's nuclear facilities to French energy giant EDF. The sale was approved last month by the state's Public Service Commission, after pressure from O'Malley to build rate-relief for BGE customers and other concessions in to the deal.

Unlike previous rounds of cuts that nearly eliminated funding to counties for road repair, O'Malley's latest package includes no additional cuts to local governments.

The Baltimore Sun's take is here.

And in other news:

Dixon case: Prosecution rests; judge throws out two counts

The judge in Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon's theft trial threw out two of the seven counts against her, after the state rested its case without calling developer Ronald H. Lipscomb to the stand, reports Brendan Kearney in The Daily Record. "Counts 2 and 5 against Dixon dealt with gift cards allegedly given to her by Lipscomb, her former boyfriend, for distribution to needy families. Dixon's defense team said the cards were personal gifts to her from Lipscomb."

Montgomery deals the ICC a setback
"The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend against toll rates proposed for the Intercounty Connector, saying the tolls would be too expensive for many motorists and would leave the highway with too few users to justify its costs," writes The Post's Katherine Shaver. "The council's letter to the Maryland Transportation Authority, which will operate the ICC, also will suggest that toll rates be phased in for motorists using the first segment, which is scheduled to open between Interstate 370 and Georgia Avenue in fall 2010. Frequent users of the six-lane highway should be offered a discount, the council said."

Ehrlich sees difficult rematch vs. O'Malley, but wife is eager
"His wife is "wildly enthusiastic" about him running for governor again. Some of his close friends are decidedly less so," writes The Post's John Wagner. "Former governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s latest ruminations on 2010 were shared Tuesday during an appearance before a college class at Towson University.

"Vomitoxin" disaster declared in 10 Md. counties
"A fungal grain infestation caused by last spring's wet weather in Maryland was bad enough to earn a federal agricultural disaster declaration for 10 Maryland counties. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack approved the state's request for aid in a Nov. 13 letter to Gov. O'Malley," writes The Sun's Frank Roylance

Pr. George's cab drivers protest outside final council session
A group of about 30 irate Prince George's County taxi drivers gathered outside the county administration building Tuesday to protest a lack of action by county lawmakers over what they say are unfair working conditions.

Briefly:

  • The Prince George's County Council acts on some quality-of-life bills, reports The Post's Jonathan Mummolo.

  • Two Montgomery County agencies that investigate government ethics are facing complaints questioning their behavior, reports The Post's Michael Laris.

  • U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the Judiciary Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, says advancing technologies are increasing the risks of cyber attacks.

  • Maryland Politics Watch tracks the growth in popularity of political blogs in the state.

  • "Former state Sen. William Joseph Goodman Sr. of Lanham died Monday at age 79 at his home after suffering from Alzheimer's disease," writes Andrea Noble in The Gazette. "A Democrat serving in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1963 to 1971 and state senator from 1971 to 1974, Goodman left his mark ... through environmental and tax reforms."


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  • By Aaron C. Davis  |  November 18, 2009; 12:01 AM ET
    Categories:  Aaron C. Davis , First Click , Governor , Maryland State Budget  
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    Next: Now It's Your Turn: Are ICC tolls too high?

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